How we live plays a big role in how well our memories function, especially as we begin to age. Thankfully, in many cases, it’s relatively easy to prevent or avoid many of the behaviors and choices that chip away at our cognition and ability to recall information, both recent and from the distant past. Here are some tips:
Researchers have found that simple-carbohydrate diets that are high in saturated and trans fats are bad for you in just about every way, and the effect of such unhealthy eating on memory isn’t an exception. Gravitate instead toward whole grains, complex carbohydrates and “good” fats (think unsalted nuts, avocado and salmon).
Sleep is restorative; a lack of sleep is destructive. The fascinating connection between insomnia and memory loss — among a host of other maladies involving the nervous system — is well documented. Part of the effect of insufficient sleep is secondary, as it results in a lack of waking focus and concentration. But getting too little sleep (or disrupted sleep that doesn’t adequately rest your body and mind) can also have a direct effect on memory loss, especially among the elderly.
Dehydration or chronic under-hydration, like sleep deprivation, negatively affects memory more acutely as you age. The good news is that drinking more water is a simple fix. Even better, drinking plenty of water can actually reverse the effects of dehydration-related memory loss. The ongoing public discussion over how much water a person should drink is as divided as ever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a conscientious evaluation of whether you’re getting enough water. Try for eight cups per day or more, interspersed throughout the entire day. It’s an easy habit to pick up.
This is the biggie. Unfortunately, the behavioral change that yields some of the biggest general health benefits is also one of the hardest to embrace, if you’re a habitual or addicted smoker. Memory (and other cognitive function) relies on an abundant supply of oxygen to the brain. Smoking not only constricts the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the brain, but it also introduces toxins like toluene that have their own directly detrimental effects on mental acuity and memory. A decline in the ability to recall names and faces has also been linked to smoking. There are a lot of smoking-cessation options out there, all with varying benefits and drawbacks, as well as a number of smoking analogues (like e-cigarettes) that are too new for researchers to have confidently assessed for their potential effects on long-term health. Whatever option you choose, though, the bottom line is simple: Quit.
Take Your Vitamins
A study of 700 people aged 60 to 74 revealed that, by taking folic acid and B12 supplements for two years, older people could improve their performance on both short- and long-term memory tests than a control group who took placebos. A lack of B12, in particular, can account for dramatic drops in energy, memory and other problems of the central nervous system. But people over the age of 50 who have a B12 deficiency have been shown to respond well to B12 supplements.